Carnival Contained

James H. Johnson

in Venice Incognito

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780520267718
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520948624 | DOI:
Carnival Contained

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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In the eighteenth century, the carnival of Venice was not very carnivalesque. Social mockery was limited. While the carnival during this period was chaotic, crowded, exuberant, and ecstatic, the carnivals rarely display inversion of roles and hierarchies. Political defiance was seldom and religious sensibilities were respected. And the identities of maskers were often known. This chapter discusses the Venetian carnival in the eighteenth century. It discusses the relative conservatism of the carnival. During this period, the Venetian carnival fell short of the dissolute abandon foreigners described. Its supposed disguises were less sweeping and its confusions of class less wholesale that outsiders believed. Its festivity was real but it was seldom uncontrolled. The restraint of the Venetian carnival grew from the combined effects of a state that policed the words and actions of its subjects and an overall reluctance on the part of citizens to defy the hierarchy or act out of station. Whether this reluctance arose from fear, approbation, or indifference is difficult to discern. Local maskers would have probably felt that same difficulty if asked to describe their restraint. Most, however, would have called their joy genuine as they watched their neighbours replay the script of Venetian domination ongiovedì grasso: the butcher who felled the bull with a single stroke, the boy who plunged down the cable to deliver flowers to the doge, the nobles in robes who smashed wooden castles with their clubs, the shipyard workers who danced the moresca or performed the Labors of Hercules.

Keywords: carnival of Venice; carnivalesque; Social mockery; conservatism; eighteenth century

Chapter.  5131 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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